Starting a new business or jumping into a new profession can be challenging these days.
But those interested in venturing into agriculture may have some help before entering the profession.
The annual Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference provides up-and-coming farmers with research-based, in-depth educational information at Osceola Heritage Park, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, in Kissimmee Friday through Sunday.
The University of Florida and Florida A&M University are the hosts. Participants must register and pay a fee to attend the conference.
Susan Kelly, Sumter County's extension director and one of the conference organizers, said the event will help jump-start newcomers into the agriculture business.
"This conference is the best opportunity for new and experienced growers to learn new ways to be profitable and cutting edge in their business," she wrote in an e-mail. "There are so many workshops, tours, demonstrations, networking sessions at one place."
Delver Dicks, president of North Florida Natural Black Angus, Inc. is a fifth generation Florida farmer. It will be his fourth year attending the conference.
"Attending the conference is very beneficial for anyone interested in the sustainability of family farms in America, the current trends associated with the development of local food systems or just agriculture in general," he said. "Along with the fact that our children want to continue our family farm for future generations, this conference has given us encouragement and excitement about the bright future of agriculture."
Dicks, who owns a farm in Lake City, also credits the conference for providing information about available resources to help launch innovative ideas.
"After further research, we decided to apply for a USDA grant that seemed to be the best fit for our farm and were amazed when we received word it had been awarded," he said. "The Value-Added Producer's Grant program has been available to agricultural producers desiring to add value to their particular commodity for the past several years. It has helped us to put an innovative, direct marketing idea we had been researching for years into reality."
This year's keynote speaker is Michael Shuman, author, attorney and economist. He wrote "Going Local" and "The Small-Mart Revolution." Shuman supports building healthy local economies.
About 800 people are expected to attend the event. In a first for the four-year conference, there will be sessions on starting and managing a successful farmer's market and creating community gardens.
Some of the topics returning are engaging the Florida Farm to School program; developing a food safety plan and alternative energy for farms; and beginning farmer and rancher business development.
There will be workshops, hands-on demonstrations and organized networking activities, which will allow exchanging of knowledge while interacting with others from all over the state.
"Participants meet suppliers and organizations that will help them in the business of farming through the popular trade show," Kelly said.
"Meals and networking socials provide time to talk with fellow farmers, which is a great way to share ideas."
The conference offers many avenues for small farms. In Florida, more than 90 percent of farms are considered small.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers small farms to be those with less than $250,000 in annual sales.
Florida has more than 44,000 small farms.
To register for the conference, visit http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms/index.html.